Chicago Bulls of 1991 – 1998, NY Yankees of 1940-1953 and the late 90s, Montreal Canadians hockey of 1955 – 1960, USA Men’s Olympic basketball team “The Dream Team”. Remember these teams? If you didn’t grow up with them, please give yourself a treat and check out their performances on YouTube. ESPN has named these, plus several more, as some of the top teams in the history of sports.
Remarkably enough though, these teams did NOT start out as a unit performing “together” at all. In fact, the “Dream Team”, who won the gold in the Olympics of 1992, were everything but a team when they first got together. Then Assistant Coach Mike Kryzewski, better known as Coach K of Duke University now, said, “For a while, when the team first formed, they were 12 superstar individuals. Individuals who knew they were superstars on their own; they didn’t feel the need to act like a team as long as they played well individually. It wasn’t until when things began to toughen up, and the coaches leaned on the leaders within the team, such as Michael Jordan, did they finally begin to mold together. That’s when the winning began.” Why is that?
When the heat is turned up, sweat begins to pour, emotions along with blood pressure and tempers fly high is when people get more agitated right? Isn’t that when things begin to unravel?
Not when there is a unity and a unified goal at the end, and it’s lit a fire deep inside each of the members. Even when people from different places, different backgrounds, different ways of operating/performing are brought together and placed into a team with one common unifying desired outcome you can throw just about anything at them and they can achieve unbelievable measures of success despite all odds against them. Take a look at the USA “Miracle on Ice” hockey team who beat the Russian Olympic team 4-3, despite losing to them 10-3 just 2 weeks earlier, advancing over Finland at the next game to win the Gold Medal! After they won the gold, one of their star players said they were playing for the bronze medal until the unified spark of possibly winning the gold was put inside them. Then the fight for gold was on!
So what is it about a diverse group overcoming so many odds and achieving HUGE victories? How do they transform from individuals, all talented in their individual way, into a group which performs like a well tuned machine that doesn’t back down? After the victory, you typically see a forged brotherhood or sisterhood within these groups that’s unbreakable.
A similar comparison can be made with the men and women of the U.S. military, especially my friends in Special Forces Units. The training alone they go through is one of the most demanding, brutal, unforgiving experiences anyone could face. Several YouTube videos and documentaries capture these grueling conditions and extreme workouts they go through and, if you’ll pay close attention, there’s a common thread amongst all of them – they don’t do anything alone. In fact, they’re never alone.
This “never alone” piece made me curious, and I was intrigued on how this effected team dynamic while achieving new levels as an individual. So, while working out with my team for an upcoming obstacle course race, I asked one of my teammates for his take. He’s an active duty guy who recently completed some of that tough training, Army Style.
“So when you first entered into the training pipeline you were somewhat new to the military right?” I asked. “Yep, only a few years in at the time.” he answered. “Any team sports prior to the military?” I asked further. “Yeah, but only a few sports here and there.” he replied. “Oh ok, so which do you prefer the most, team environment or individual?” He shot back with, “Back then teams were great, but I felt like I could do more on my own. I believed that I could bare the weight myself, and make things happen my way. No one depending on me but me.” Now my interest in this concept of growing from individual to a role within a great team was way higher!
“Ok, so you used the phrase ‘back then’ when referring to the way you felt about teams. Why is that?” I curiously inquired, and that is when I proceeded to be thoroughly educated. He led with, “My mindset on teams, groups, etc. is drastically different now, and it’s all centered around esprit de corps or better known as Going through ‘the suck’ together. Embrace the suck together. Basically, you come into training as an individual. Even if you are a team player from your past, and you enjoy the team atmosphere, you will still have individual tendencies at the beginning. But, those tendencies don’t last long. The trainers are on a mission to flush them out, and boy do they know how to flush them out fast!” he said with a half grim half relieved he survived look.
“On a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being the hardest, how tough was this training?” I asked with a grin. “15!” was his answer.
“I’ll bet man. Sleep deprivation, any and all kinds of outdoor conditions, orders being yelled at insane decimals, running, lots of running, workouts upon workouts has got to be tough.” I said. He laughed, with a smile and quick response of, “Yeah that’s before most people wake up and get out of bed in one single morning.”
“Wow! So what changed you from a regular average guy to the superman who always seems to have more in the tank when we are working out as a team?”, I asked. “Honestly going through tough stuff with other people” was his response. There’s that never alone piece again.
“Your body is capable of SO MUCH more than you imagine. The U.S. Navy Seals have this saying that when you think you’re done, and there’s nothing more in the tank, then you are actually only 40% done, you still have 60% more. I learned this truth when I was in the training, a part of a group going through tough stuff together. Waking up hours before the sun even comes up to go for a run or a 12-mile hike carrying a third of my body weight in a pack was tough. Navigating through dense forest with full battle gear on, in the middle of the hot and humid summer, was tough. Working out outside to the point of full body muscle cramps, if you didn’t hydrate enough, was tough. But, quitting…. that would be way tougher to deal with for the rest of my life.” he told me.
“The thought of quitting rolled through my mind a lot, and I know it did for other people going through this tough stuff too. Some of them did quit, but those of us who stuck it out reached the reward at the end. The tough stuff did come to an end.” he said to me as I’m just staring with full attention. “So what got you through it all?” I asked. “Mental strength was the driving force, but the force behind that force were the people around me. I knew that if I thought about how difficult it was in the moment of ‘the suck’, then I was actually believing it to be way worse than it actually was. So I just pushed those thoughts out and took action. I just did. All I needed to think about was making it to the next step, or milestone. For me it was helpful to think about making it to the next meal, and helping the other folks think about their next milestone. Meals were a popular one for us since we were constantly burning so many calories.” he joked. “My biggest driver was the person standing next to me carrying their share of the load.” he said with a conviction in his voice. “If they are pushing through, then so will I.” he stated proudly.
He continued with, “And during times of rest, even if they were short, we made sure to find something to laugh about. We made light hearted comments or jokes about how badly something sucked that day, and we made sure to get everyone involved in the laughs. We were in this together. After we laughed together a couple of times you could see it in people’s faces. We were NOT going to let each other down. No one would let that happen. No matter what it took, we were sticking through it, together!” he proudly proclaimed. “After a while, we not only laughed together but we also shared life stories and goals together. Something I had never talked about with anybody but my close family before. This locked in our desire to win and overcome everything together. There was no thought of quitting after that for anyone of us. We trusted each other.”
I have always admired great teams and military units who operate as one well tuned machine of one. Now, after hearing what my friend was telling me about going through tough stuff together with people who trusted one another I finally understood what made all of those teams and units great. The human need win to together.
See I don’t believe we are created to go through life alone. Sure we may get down after life kicks us in the gut, and we want to go experiment with what it’s like to be a hermit crab. It’s an easy thing to do that feels natural. In reality though, it’s quite unnatural to go at life alone. Think about it for just a second. Humans give birth to other humans. We need each other for that. And those same humans later form groups, teams, organizations and societies who achieve monumental sized achievements together. We need each other for that. If we attempt to go through something difficult, challenging or what seems impossible alone, then what is the likelihood that the solutions for getting out will just POOF, pop up? Very slim, or at the very least it will take a very long time to get through it, and we are usually so beaten down at the end we don’t even know when it’s over nor are we better for it.
What I learned from my military brother after his explanation of what I call “Going Through Tough Stuff Together” was this:
- We are stronger and more capable of what we currently imagine, and we need other people around us to remind us of that constantly.
- If we control our minds our bodies will follow.
- Going through tough stuff alone is astronomically more difficult than going through the same tough stuff with the right people there with you. This is due to the fact that quitting and giving up is much easier if you drifting solo. Quitting on others after they are fighting for and with you is the safety belt to prevent giving up.
I want to leave you with this final thought. Lean in closer… You may be going through something right now that it seems there is no end in sight, the pain is only getting worse, there is no rest, and you don’t believe you can overcome. It’s ok to think that, for now. While you are thinking this way I encourage you to place trustworthy, supportive, loving but accountable people in your circle. Borrow their belief in you, and what you are capable of, for a while. Eventually it will transform into your own internal belief in yourself, but for the meantime just borrow theirs.
If you don’t have anyone who meets those criteria, then reach out to us at the Journey Principles Institute. Our community is waiting for you because we believe together we are greater!